Barcelona face Bulgarian champions Levski Sofia in what appears to be a straightforward opening match for the current holders.
However, coach Frank Rijkaard is not underestimating tonight’s opponents, who will be making history by becoming the first Bulgarian side to play in the Champions League.
“Our scouts have watched Levski to find out everything we can about them,” Rijkaard said. “It is the same thing we do for every Champions League team. We have plenty of information and reports, and before the game we will have a meeting to discuss how best to approach them.”
“I do not believe in favourites,” he added. “You have to show you are the best on the pitch. I know people consider us favourites, but that will not change our mentality. We have to prepare correctly and make sure our mentality is right, to work hard and to play well.”
Rijkaard has no injury worries ahead of tonight’s encounter. Indeed his biggest problem is who to leave out of his star-studded squad.
“It is part of the job, it is necessary to find the best team,” he said. “To achieve things in football, it is not only the eleven that play, but the whole squad. At a big club like Barca, the players accept that.”
The Dutchman’s opposite number Stanimir Stoilov has boldly stated that his side will be going out to win tonight.
“Barcelona have a great team, but Levski’s philosophy is that we never go out to play for a draw, only to win,” Stoilov said.
“If it turns out to be a draw then fine, but we want to win. If I did not think we could win, I would not have come here.”
“We know Barça will attack us, but we are prepared for that,” he added.
“I am not worried about individuals. They have some of the biggest names in football, but I am more concerned with Barça the team. I will also be as worried about how we play, about our style, as I am about the result.”
Forward Valeri Domovchiyski has a knee injury and will be replaced by Emil Angelov, while left-back Lucio Wagner is suspended and will probably be replaced by Stanislav Angelov. Goalkeeper Georgi Petkov is available after overcoming a head injury sustained on international duty with Bulgaria.
Barcelona: Víctor Valdés; Gianluca Zambrotta, Carles Puyol, Lilian Thuram, Giovanni van Bronckhorst; Edmílson, Xavi Hernández, Deco; Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o.
Levski: Georgi Petkov; Zhivko Milanov, Igor Toma_i_, Elin Topuzakov, Stanislav Angelov; Daniel Borimirov, Richard Eromoigbe, Dimitar Telkiyski, Hristo Yovov, Cédric Bardon; Emil Angelov.